Monthly Archives: January 2018

Quiz show

I do watch quiz shows on tv sometimes. Not game shows, and definitely not all shows. University Challenge is a no-no, as is Mastermind. My only interest is to answer the questions posed, and the topics for those are specialised and, really, of no interest. Who on earth cares about the History of Dutch cheese 1842 to 1988?

General knowledge quiz shows are just better. You stand a chance. But there are some things that annoy me.

First of all, questions are not easy or hard. If you know the answer, it’s easy, otherwise it’s impossible. Maybe you can make a guess, or pick the mostly likely answer of three in multiple choice, but there’s no such thing in the universe as an ‘educated guess’. A guess is a guess because you don’t know something. Educated means you have knowledge ie you know. You may be able to look at three choices and reject one, but if you don’t know between the remainder, a guess is still a guess.

It’s always worth saying something rather than nothing. A ‘pass’ will never win, but there is a miniscule chance a random guess may be correct.

Quizzers know certain rules about guessing: oceans are often Pacific, simply because it is so huge and contains lots of stuff. Dairy products is probably cheese. ‘Bird’ or ‘fish’ is often a good answer. British royalty is either Henry VIII, Victoria or Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Ministers from olden times can often be Churchill, from modern times Thatcher or Blair. If for no other reason, because they were around for a long time.

It has always seemed to me that, faced with a question about something you’ve never heard of and three choices, one of which you’ve never heard of, then these would be the best guesses. If you had heard of one, you might be more likely to have heard of the other.

I record the programmes and cut out the waffle. I don’t want to know how old you are, what you did/do for a living, the names of your ten children, what you will do with the money etc… I don’t want you to sing, especially if you are a female Egghead. I don’t want the sponsors or the adverts. Mind, if I ever appeared on The Chase and Bradley Walsh asked me “if you was to win some money, what would you do with it?” then I have the perfect answer: “buy you a book about English grammar, Brad.”

The Chase can be good, but there are bits that are more than annoying. The player asking the others what choice they should make contributes nothing to anything, nor Walsh insulting the chasers. And when he says “you got one, but you’re a better player than that” is palpable nonsense. If you get one, that’s how good a player you are. If you answered ten correctly, then ditto. You are as good as you are, no better and no worse. To a large extent, there’s luck to the questions too.

And when they are offered, say, £40,000 and say “ooh, I could have a good wedding with that” except, you share it, you only get a fraction of it and you still have to get through and beat the chaser. Your best bet is to get as many people through as possible, meaning more to share the money.

The worst aspect of quizzes is this: “Which famous king had six wives?” The contestant answers, “ooh, that’s before my time”. Yes, most of the history of the universe is, but it doesn’t prevent you from knowing things!

And oh, the waffle… Filler. On Eggheads, you can always tell how good or bad a team is by how much inane chat Jeremy Vine makes with everyone.

Enough of a rant. Let’s ignore all the inane sports questions, stuff about modern ‘culture’ that no-one knows, Jeremy Vine and Victoria Coren Mitchell (and the whole Only Connect fiddle).

More Network

So Bryan Cranston is in town, doing Network on stage at the National Theatre. Mr Cranston is of Breaking Bad fame, yet another big name that will fill the seats with non-critical and adoring fans.

Normally I would give this a wide berth, except that I was keen to see the production and the reviews made it intriguing.

So it’s two hours and no interval. The huge stage is divided into three: a tv control box to the left, a fully functioning restaurant with chefs to the right and the main stage.

If it all sounds a bit gimmicky, well, maybe it is, but all the parts, plus the projection into the audience and the aisles are used to good effect.

The story has been stripped of the terrorist plot, mostly, and the cast has some well-known names. Some details have been changed, to raise the Cranston part slightly. He gets the best anecdotes. One change is the Arthur Jensen speech, done in the film by Ned Beatty. Here it is delivered from the balcony top left in a quiet and considered way, very menacing and effective. Except, the very last line has been removed.

Oh, and across the top are four musicians doing a kind of Kraftwerk soundtrack.

Some of the shoutyness of the original film has been retained. For us, this was not good. Cranston as Howard Beale is not as world weary or just plain tired and Peter Finch, but he is still good in the part. There are plenty of stage tricks to involve the audience, great use of a team of camera people and a big screen.

There’s an attention to detail that you don’t expect at the NT too.

At a time when the President of the USA is a failed property developer and reality tv star, what they play has to say about the realities of life still apply. 3% of Americans read books, 15% read newspapers. To most, what is reality is what comes out of the tv. It’s unquestioned. If we add the world wide web now, it’s everywhere.

Until end of March. Tickets? Well, good luck with that!



The original film of Network is a product of the mid to late 1970s. Watching it now looks a little dated in the detail, with modern tv cameras etc being much advanced from those depicted, but nevertheless the message is just as relevant now. What started as a satire has become reality.

If you don’t know it, get it and watch. It is the story of Howard Beale, tv news anchorman who has lost his wife and, with falling ratings, is losing his job. With nothing to live for, Beale declares he will shoot himself live on tv.

This, of course, stirs up ratings and he becomes popular again. I will say no more, so I do not spoil it. It is considered one of the great films of our time, not because it is uniformly good but because certain scenes are ust so unforgettable. So while Faye Dunaway is unconvincing and Robert Duvall is shouty annoying, Peter Finch brings tears to our eyes every time with his declarations about the shallowness of tv and all of life’s bullshit.

All the more so when you know that Finch was seriously ill, literally dying, did not have the energy to do repeated takes of scenes. Of course he won a posthumous Oscar.

If you like films with cgi, monsters, rapid cutting, loud music and IMAX 3D, go elsewhere. If you like great characters, impassioned speeches, intelligence and no music, find it.